If you lose a smartphone and you use a service that can track its location via GPS, ignore it when it tells you that your handset is a Wayne Dobson’s house. For the past two years, this 59-year-old retiree has had cellphone owners showing up at his Las Vegas home demanding their devices back. They turn up at all hours of the day, yelling and threatening to call the police.
But Dobson is no thief, and he doesn’t have their phones. It’s a strange glitch that appears to be affecting devices on Sprint, and its making this man’s life a misery.
The problem doesn’t just affect cellphone owners; according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, police have also been wrongly directed to Dobson’s home when answering domestic violence calls. The situation’s gotten so bad that Dobson has to sleep near his front door so that he can answer it quickly during the night. He’s also put up a sign outside to tell people he doesn’t have their lost cellphone.
“It’s very difficult to say, ‘I don’t have your phone,’ in any other way other than, ‘I don’t have your phone,’ ” Dobson said. “It’s a hell of a problem. It would be nice to be able to get a good night’s sleep.”
The problem started back in 2011, when Dobson had a knock on his door around midnight. When he opened it, he found an upset couple who demanded he hand over their lost phone. Of course, Dobson had no idea what was going on.
“I’m standing there and I’m thinking, ‘What are they talking about?’ ” he said. “They might as well have said, ‘Give me my horse back.’ ”
After a lot of arguing, both parties called the police. Dobson explained that he didn’t know the couple, and that he doesn’t “go where they go” — so he couldn’t possibly have found their device. The couple eventually left, and never returned again, but it wasn’t long before Dobson had another unexpected visitor.
One day Dobson found a woman roaming around his back yard, but before he could ask her what she was doing, she jumped over the wall. Dobson then heard a knock at the door.
“Please give me my phone,” she said.
Dobson explained, yet again, that he didn’t have the device the woman was looking for, but she didn’t believe him. “I’ve got pictures of my grandchildren,” she said. “I can’t replace them. I need them. All I want are my pictures.”
On this occasion, Dobson invited the woman into his home to look for her cellphone, and insisted she call the police. In the meantime, he called her cellphone provider, Sprint.
A technician explained to Dobson that cellphone GPS systems don’t provide exact locations — they simply give a general location. And for some reason, Dobson’s home was pinpointed as the location for his area, leading many people to believe that’s exactly where their handset was location.
Sprint knew exactly what the problem was, then, but it couldn’t offer a solution on how to fix it.
Smartphone makers like Apple, Microsoft, and others all provide ways for their devices to be tracked by their owners in the event that they are lost or stolen. Often times these features are a blessing; we’ve covered a number of stories here at Cult of Mac about users who recover their devices using Apple’s Find My iPhone feature.
And of course, cellphones are tracked for other reasons, too. For example, the police have used cellphone locations to find 911 callers, or to place suspects at a crime scene.
As Dobson’s story proves, however, cellphone tracking isn’t always helpful.
On December 18, 2012, Dobson’s situation evolved from “a nuisance into a danger.” Four young men turned up at his door at 2:30 a.m. and yelled for him to open up. One of the men had a tablet that was telling him his cellphone was located at Dobson’s house.
Two weeks later, he was woken at 4 a.m. by a person wandering around down the side of his property.
“I screamed at him, ‘Who are you? Get out of my yard!’ ” Dobson said. “And he said, ‘We’re the police, open the door.’ ”
The police were responding to a 911 call from a woman who had been arguing with a man. They were unable to get a location from her, so they traced the cellphone. Yet again, they were directed to Dobson’s house. Dobson was taken out into his front yard and searched, and when officers realized they’d made a mistake, they apologized.
Dobson said he was grateful he didn’t confront the officers with a weapon, because he knew he’d be “on the losing end,” simply because of this issue.
Sprint officials have confirmed that they are looking into the glitch, and they promise to “research the issue thoroughly and try to get to the bottom of what is going on and if it has anything to do with our company.”
In some ways, it’s good for Dobson that the issue is also affecting the police, because that makes it a serious problem that has to be addressed. Hopefully, that’ll happen sooner rather than later.
Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal